If we believe that newspapers should reflect their communities, it is fair to say Brunswick News could do better when it comes to female representation in the pages of its publications, writes ombudswoman Patricia Graham.

By Patricia Graham, Brunswick News ombudswoman

The timing was serendipitous. In late June, three university professors published a research paper titled “Where are the Women? The Presence of Female Columnists in U.S. Opinion Pages”. The answer was neither unusual nor unfamiliar: they are still too few and far between on opinion pages.

As it happens, for four weeks commencing in early April, I had tracked the number of male and female columnists, opinion page contributors and letter writers at Brunswick News’ three English-language daily publications: The Telegraph-Journal, The Daily Gleaner and The Times & Transcript. (I focused solely on the issue of gender diversity, but I recognize that there are other elements of diversity that also need to be considered and addressed.)

My conclusion: If we believe that newspapers should reflect their communities, it is fair to say Brunswick News could do better when it comes to female representation in the pages of its publications.

My focus wasn’t on the papers as a whole, but on what we in the industry characterize as hard news sections – local, national and international news, opinion, and business. Sports – mostly male – and lifestyles – mostly female – were omitted, as was arts and entertainment.

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At the Telegraph Journal, male opinion page contributors outnumbered the women three to one during my four-week tracking period. The same was true at the Times & Transcript – literally:  during the weeks I was counting, it published four opinion page articles, three of them authored by men. The Daily Gleaner fared better: its opinion page contributors were almost equally male and female.

When it came to columnists, the Telegraph-Journal did better: almost half the columns I counted were written by women. At The Daily Gleaner, men penned 14 of 25 columns. But at the Times & Transcript, which has a large roster of regular local columnists, the situation was quite different: out of 114 columns published over four weeks, only 14 were written by women.

As for letters, the Telegraph-Journal trailed the pack, with about 26% of its letters written by women; the Times & Transcript came in at 29% and the Daily Gleaner 32%. When it comes to letters – that forum that belongs, readers, to all of you – there is little the editors can do; by and large these dailies publish almost all the letters they receive. Time to step up to the plate, ladies. No more reticence or self-doubt about whether you have something to say that matters, because you do. Your thoughts and perspective are as important to the debate as anyone else’s.

What prompted me to take this tally? Well, for starters and perhaps not surprisingly, the representation of women in media and media leadership is an issue in which I take a personal interest. More importantly, however, I believe balance makes good business sense: internally, it broadens perspective and contributes to better decision-making. In newspapers, balanced content reflects the community and signals that we are in tune with it. Balance also contributes, whether consciously or not, to our readers’ sense of belonging and participation, and thus gives them a more positive experience. Not only is this in the interest of the public good, it is good for business. And if Brunswick News does not succeed as a business, it cannot serve the public good.

I must point out that Brunswick News is by no means unique when it comes to the representation of women. A study last year by Informed Opinions found that women had written only about 20% of the pieces published on the commentary pages of Canadian daily newspapers. But if the journalists at Brunswick News have some work to do ensuring that more women appear as voices of authority in their print and digital publications, the responsibility is not theirs alone. Women themselves are part of the solution. The aforementioned Informed Opinions, founded by Shari Graydon, offers workshops for women on writing commentary as well as being effective in interviews, presentations and advocacy. It offers editing support and maintains a database of women qualified to speak as experts on a variety of topics.

I’d like to see more women sending letters and commentary pieces to Brunswick News publications. The editors, particularly at the Times & Transcript, should work towards achieving gender balance among the columnists and authors of commentary. It may take a little time but it can certainly be done.

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome at ombudsman@brunswicknews.com.

This column was originally published by Brunswick News and republished here with its permission

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.